Friday, September 29, 2006

White House ‘ignored’ Iraq warning

By Caroline Daniel in Washington

Published: September 29 2006 23:38 | Last updated: September 30 2006 01:09

The Bush administration was shaken on Friday by revelations from a new book by Bob Woodward, the veteran investigative reporter, which said Andrew Card, the former White House chief of staff, had twice tried to force the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, over his handling of the Iraq war.

State of Denial by the Washington Post reporter who uncovered the Watergate scandal, paints a picture of an administration riven by personal rivalries, with Mr Rumsfeld at one point refusing to take calls from Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. It claims that even Laura Bush, President George W. Bush’s wife, had misgivings about the defence secretary.

It also suggests Ms Rice “brushed off” a July 2001 briefing from the CIA director and former head of counterterrorism, about an imminent terrorist threat. That contrasts with claims from Ms Rice that the administration had in its first eight months been “at least as aggressive” as the Clinton administration.

Critics could use the account to question the White House’s credibility on its handling of the Iraq war and the “war on terror”. It comes at a time when Mr Bush has forcefully made the case that his actions since 9/11 have made the US safer.

Tony Snow, White House spokesman, dismissed the book as “like cotton candy. It kind of melts on contact”, and said it was driven by those on the “losing side of the argument...The average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled: ‘If only they had listened to me’. ”

He rejected some of the book’s central allegations, denying the White House played down the threats from the insurgency in Iraq and ignored urgent calls for more troops. Mr Bush has consistently defended Mr Rumsfeld.

The New York Times was the first to report on the book, an embarrassment to the Washington Post, which is due to publish extracts on Sunday. It is the second blow to the newspaper, which was also scooped on the outing of Deep Throat, Mr Woodward’s source during Watergate.

In a claim that could fuel conspiracy theories about the recent oil price decline – in an interview to be broadcast on CBS on Sunday – Mr Woodward described a conversation between Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Mr Bush in which the former Saudi ambassador said he could ease oil prices ahead of the elections.

“They could go down very quickly. That’s the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day,” Mr Woodward said.

• Six-term Republican congressman Mark Foley of Florida resigned from Congress on Friday following reports he sent sexually inappropriate e-mails to underage male congressional interns, reports Reuters.

Mr Foley, chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children, said he would resign after ABC News reported he sent messages to current and former congressional pages with references to sexual organs and acts.

“Today I have delivered a letter to the Speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the US House of Representatives, effective today,” said Mr Foley, who is single, in a statement.

“I am deeply sorry and I apologise for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent.”

Mr Foley’s decision to resign just five weeks before the November 7 midterm election complicated Republican efforts to retain control of the House and offered a new target for Democrats, who must gain 15 seats to reclaim a majority.

Mr Foley won re-election in 2004 with 68 per cent of the vote and was favoured in November over Democrat Tim Mahoney, a local business owner.

His name will remain on the ballot, which has already been certified, said Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State. But Republicans have seven days to notify election officials of a replacement nominee who would take Rep Foley’s spot if he wins, she said.

President George W. Bush carried the district with 54 per cent of the vote in 2004. Democrats said the congressman had been polling at under 50 per cent and they would contest the seat, but Republicans said they remained confident.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Mr Foley had “done the right thing” by resigning. He said he had asked officials to look into the incident and make sure all congressional pages were safe. “None of us are very happy about it,” he said.

Mr Foley was the author of the key sexual predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Mr Bush signed in July.

The New York Times

September 29, 2006

White House Disputes Portrayal in Woodward Book

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — The White House today attempted to dismiss a new book’s portrayal of division and discord inside the Bush administration, suggesting that the account by Bob Woodward was provided by former aides who believe their advice on troop levels and other questions of strategy had been ignored.

Even as the White House scrambled to obtain a few copies of the book, “State of Denial,” today, administration officials were rebutting specific examples contained in Mr. Woodward’s account, which described bitter clashes and long-running feuds fueled by the debate over the unraveling of the war in Iraq.

But other administration officials, speaking on background, acknowledged that the accounts spelled out in the new book reflected a breakdown of discipline in an administration that once prized its ability to keep its disputes in-house.

“Look, this is a war, and you are going to have a lot of really smart people with completely different opinions,” Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing this afternoon that was delayed so that he could leaf through a copy of the book.

In Washington, he said, “you’re going to see people who are on the losing side of arguments being especially outspoken about their opinions.” Then, he added, “The average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled, “If they only listened to me.”

But Mr. Snow had difficulty explaining why Mr. Bush had not heeded advice from a broad range of officials, including Robert D. Blackwill, the former top Iraq adviser, and L. Paul Bremer III, the senior American official running the occupation, who called for more troops.

Mr. Snow also did not say why Mr. Bush’s upbeat assessments of America’s “Plan for Victory” in Iraq, laid out in a series of speeches he gave late last year, contrasted so sharply with the contents of classified cables written by administration officials who warned that failure was also a significant possibility.

Some of those memoranda were written by Philip Zelikow, a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, including one in early 2005 in which Mr. Zelikow characterized the country as still “a failed state” two years after the American-led invasion, and another in September 2005 which he said there was only a 70 percent chance of success in achieving a stable, democratic state.

That meant, Mr. Zelikow said, that there was a 30 percent chance of failure, including what he called a “significant risk” of “catastrophic failure,” meaning a collapse of the state Mr. Bush has attempted to create. Mr. Zelikow declined to comment today, apart from confirming the accuracy of the words from the memos that Mr. Woodward cited in the book.

Other senior State Department officials dismissed Mr. Woodward’s account as a familiar one. “This just in — Condi and Rumsfeld argue a lot,” said one. “Didn’t we know that?

In the past, State Department officials have described extreme tensions between the two over Ms. Rice’s sense that Mr. Rumsfeld was not paying enough attention to detention issues.

“When Abu Ghraib came, that was the big break between them,” one senior official said in the spring, referring to the abuses in the American-run detention center.

The book contends that the former White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card, suggested to President Bush that he replace Mr. Rumsfeld. In a telephone interview from California today, Mr. Card confirmed that he had raised the issue, but suggested that Mr. Woodward had ignored the context.

“Right after the election I went to Camp David and talked to the president, and we talked about a lot of changes, starting with the chief of staff,” said Mr. Card, recounting how he used to tote around what he called his “hit by a bus book,” a notebook full of lists of potential replacements for members of the senior White House staff and top cabinet officials.

“It’s not inaccurate to say that we talked about Rumsfeld,” he continued. “I can understand why Bob would try to create a climate around these conversations.” He added, however, that “there was no campaign, and I didn’t go out and solicit others to back any view about getting rid of anyone. I could talk about these things with the president, and plant seeds, because there is a cadence to life in Washington and you raise these issues periodically.”